To call Richard Thompson – who died on Wednesday at the age of 58 -a cartoonist is like saying Mozart could carry a tune.
His reputation will probably rest on his syndicated Washington Post strip, Cul de Sac, which featured in-yer-face 4 year old Alice Otterloop and her deeply introverted elder brother, Petey, along with their friends, parents, their grandmother and their grandmother’s enormous dog. Thompson’s genius, however, stretched to caricatures, the ever-inventive and often weird Richard’s Poor Almanac, editorial illustrations, oil paintings and much more.
What I found irresistable in Richard Thompson’s work -and the reason why The Art of Richard Thompson would be my desert island book – was the amount of life he could pour into his most casual line. Look at any of his drawings and see the expression in those faces, the carefully-observed humanity in those cartoon bodies, the humour in the eyes of the figures standing behind the main figures.
He could draw the best caricature of George W Bush, wonderful cows, fools with caps and bells, Santa’s little helpers, elephants like you’ve never seen them before, a brilliant Beethoven, and the story of evolution in three perfect panels (click on the Richard Thompson link in the blogroll to the right). We shall not encounter his like again any time soon, I know.
I offer my inadequate small tribute (below) to an artist I would have loved to have met and told how much his work means to me.
Sometimes, while trying on something in a clothing shop, I’ll catch sight of a middle-aged, grey-haired man in the mirror and wonder, for a split second, who he is and why he can’t find his own changing room. Then I realise that he’s me and I am, unfortunately, no longer 35. Or anywhere close to 35.
This probably explains why my attempts at self-portraits always turn out so odd. Sometimes I look like a young actor appearing as an old man in a theatre company that can’t afford a decent make-up artist. I once did one that looked like Bill Murray in a wind-tunnel, another where I looked like an unconvincing Elvis impersonator…
Last night I thought I’d have another go – today being Selfie Art Day – starting with a faint pencil outline to be sure that my head was the right shape and my ears in the right place, and then drawing in ink until it looked about right. If I did something wrong I’d simply go over it until it looked better. The end result, I thought, might suggest one of those Giacometti sketches that almost obliterate the subject.
Yesterday was a challenging day and I didn’t get very far with it. However, looking at the picture again this morning there was something about the eyes that captured yesterday’s emotional temperature. Although I’d remain a free man for years if this was ever used as a police identikit picture, I submit it for Selfie Art Day with only a slightly guilty conscience. The expression in the eyes is pretty accurate and the eyes are, we’re told, the key to any portrait.
I know many of you have been busily producing daily watercolours for World Watercolour Month, a wonderful initiative by the tireless Charlie O’Shields.
So far – 19 days in – I’ve managed the buddleia that I posted last week and this watercolour of a toad (I have been away quite a bit). I’ve been given a book of wildlife studies by the Cornish artist, Kurt Jackson, whose work in a variety of media is never less than interesting and often inspiring. I used some of his loose linework and spattering techniques in this image of a chap I’d disturbed while pulling up weeds in our garden.
Did you know that the common toad can live for up to 40 years? A particularly large one once made his home under my Mother’s garden shed, occasionally ambling out and frightening her when she was gardening. ‘Toad’ was also the title of an endless drum solo that took up an entire side of a vinyl album by Cream, but the less said about that particular toad the better…
I’m not a fan of painting flowers. Even the most skilled watercolourists end up with something that looks like a botanical illustration, I find – often losing that elusive beauty of the flower in nature. I always want to paint them like Stanley Bielen or Lisa Breslow but lack the courage to be that loose. Reducing something as complex as a flower to broad brush strokes must be immensely satisfying, and very effective as we see from Bielen’s pictures. Push it further still and you can end up with a painting that is more or less abstract, as in Debora Stewart’s work.
Alas I wasn’t feeling that brave, or that innovative, on Sunday and ended up with something that was neither realistic nor abstract. However, my ever-supportive partner liked the result – without my prompting her! – so here is my somewhat muddled Buddleia.
Recently I discovered the work of Hans Bötticher (1883-1934), who wrote under the pen-name Joachim Ringelnatz. Although for much of his life he worked as a kabarettist – a sort of satirical stand-up comedian, creating a bawdy mariner character called Kuttel Daddeldu – what remains of his work these days are numerous poems and a small body of paintings and drawings.
His poems are strange and witty, often bordering on the absurd. There was Once a Boomerang, for example, goes like this: The boomerang’s design was wrong -/ Just a little bit too long./ Off it flew on maiden flight/ And promptly disappeared from sight./ Spectators lingered with concern/ For hours, awaiting its return.
When I read the poem below it begged me to illustrate it, to which I generously agreed. If you can read the German version please do, as I feel the English translation makes too many concessions to the rhyme scheme. Of course the ending also has to be different because guinea pigs in German are known as sea pigs, even though they live on the grassy plains of South America (but they were brought across the sea to Europe, hence the name).